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Back to the Great Game in Kazakhstan

BRUSSELS – Those who oppose Western rapprochement with Kazakhstan cite the country’s lack of political and human rights. But, while Kazakhstan has not gone down the “color revolution” route to democracy that other post-Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia have followed, its timidity about reform does not justify isolation.

After all, the West is not deterred in the slightest from dealing with authoritarian Russia and communist China. Moreover, Kazakhstan, though a Muslim majority country, has established the type of secular, multi-ethnic, and multi religious polity that the West is seeking to encourage throughout the Muslim world.

But the principal reasons for the West not to isolate Kazakhstan are geostrategic. The Kazakhs are keen to sell their oil and gas to the West at the very moment that the European Union is anxious to shed its dependence on Russian supplies. Yet the window of opportunity for an EU-Kazakh partnership may be closing.

Kazakhstan’s historical ties to Russia and its geographical proximity to China have caused a keen competition between those two countries for influence. It is vital that Europe join in this “great game” for influence and draw Kazakhstan’s political orientation westwards.